1978… Two Words… Leiji Matsumoto

According to research on the web, the year of 1978 had just under 40 entries for new productions of animation in Japan. Minuscule by today (2019) as 40 a week (that may be pushing it, but 40 is a nice number) is more within the climate of the current constant stream of media barrage. 1978 was a simpler era, a quieter era, an era that may have emphasized quality over quantity? That of course is subject to opinion. Media was big business back in the late 1970s, but nothing compared to the BIG business of today. Still many gems survive from this calendar year, but in opinion… 1978 will forever be remembered for the quadruple legacy of one man’s work.

Let’s start with a couple heavy weights… I can’t discount the name of Hayao Miyazaki, how can you? To some of us, he is like a Greek pantheon god, high on the mountain top watching from afar. Yet in 1978 he was still an up and coming name to be reckoned with and good fortune would shine upon him with a television series directorial position. The show, an adaptation of Alexander Key’s Incredible Tide became known as Future Boy Conan. If you ever wanted to watch a Miyazaki movie with all the humor, drama and class that defined his later work all wrapped up into a television series, here is your chance! Beyond Helly Kitty fame, Sanrio at one time also created great animated films. Of the ones I have seen they are all high in quality and artistry, but one of their best was released in 1978. The tragic Ringing Bell is a story about revenge and corruption of one’s feelings and emotions. Though heartbreaking, it also serves as an allegory of understanding one’s deepest desire for resolution over pain and the consequences of taking certain actions.

1978 was also a year of reinvention and second chances. Gatchaman would return to the scene with both a movie adaptation of the original 1972 TV series and a brand new sequel creatively titled Gatchaman II… very original (wink). More shojo tennis excitement abound in Shin Ace o Nerae! (New Aim for the Ace!); put that on my to find list! Lupin III would come out of the shadows years after the original TV series to take the big screen with the The Mystery of Mamo. … Now let’s give focus towards Space Battleship Yamato. 1977 brought the battleship back to life yet again with a film adaptation of the previous TV series and with new found glory and a boost of popularity, a sequel would follow. 1978 brought Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato, a moving tragic tale that was supposed to be the climatic end to the sci-fi epic. The fans and even some of the creators felt this was not fair and later in the year a second TV series would debut and retell the film’s story with an alternate ending that was more hopeful.

Now for the name of the hour, the man who in my opinion owned 1978 and is one of my favorite creators of all time, Leiji Matsumoto. Matsumoto was a key player for the entire Yamato franchise providing both the design aspects and the humanistic emotionalism that made Yamato appealing. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg for the quartet of projects Matsumoto had his name on in 1978. The new Yamato projects mentioned previously are the first. The second was a TV series that re-envisioned Journey to the West, in SPACE!, known as Sci-Fi West Saga Starzinger. Third is that great TV version of a journey to the stars aboard a classy train where a young boy learns about the hardships and beauty of life accompanied by the best dressed woman in all of anime (Maetel!); Galaxy Express 999, a bonafide classic. And four, need I say more than the original Space Pirate Captain Harlock; the man, the myth, the legend… how I adore this show!

Other television series of interest include: The Adventures of the Little Prince, Treasure Island and The Perrine Story (World Masterpiece Theater, love! and wanna see it!) for historical literary interests; Daimos and Daitarn 3 for your mecha interests and Captain Future, which sounds really fancy, let’s say it again children with some bravado this time, CAPTAINFUTURE! Very nice. And for magical girl interest, there is Majokko Tickle, never heard of that one! And don’t forget there was a movie adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story Thumbelina and a TV special on the life of Anne Frank, Anne Frank Monogatari: Anne no Nikki to Douwa Yori.

In truth, 1978 was much more than just Leiji Matsumoto, but how can I view the totality of 1978 as a whole without him? Without question, this was the height of his creative potentials as well as a boon period of science fiction… Star Wars came out the previous year. Matsumoto’s highly emotional and melodramatic space operas filtered though a lens of classic romanticism and adventure spoke beyond that present moment. He may have had the market share of the times, but he was only one piece in a grand puzzle of great anime. 1978… such a great year!

#85 : Ringing Bell

RB_1Ahh! Look at the cute little lamb, I bet this is a movie that will be all heart warming and cozy and adorable. Oh hey… and this was produced by Sanrio of Hello Kitty fame too, yup heart warming, fuzzy and kawaii. And then reality sets in once you start to watch Ringing Bell. What you see before you is a cautionary children’s story with a moral to teach.  And I say children’s story in the highest regard by recalling a quote by C.S. Lewis, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” So a dark tale wrapped in an unassuming adorable package; a venerable wolf in sheep’s clothing… funny how thats a fitting statement for this classic short film. Details to follow…

RB_2Let’s start with a personal question… how much does your anger control you? Are you so consumed with negative emotions that you become blind to your own ego? Mix one part Disney’s Bambi and one part the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vadar from Star Wars and you get the basic foundation of Ringing Bell. We have a story about the downfall of the innocent protagonist, who dives into the dark night of the soul and keeps on falling into the ever expanding hole of suffering. This dark night becomes the ever present defacto reality our hero lives in, until the very end when our hero learns of his misjudgments. We all suffer to a degree, but we should NEVER suffer alone, or make life altering decision in that state of being.

RB_3Our hero is a young lamb, Chirin, adorable as can be, living an idealized childhood. He laughs, he plays, he loves to eat his green clover and he is the apple of his protective mother’s eye. Life is simple, happy and almost utopian. Around young Chiron’s neck is a bell that acts as a signal, a warning, to prevent Chirin from exploring too far from safety. The line of safety in our story is a simple wooden fence. Yet as much as you can close yourself out from dangers or change, those forces will find a way to creep in. Such is life, a constant battle between light and dark that is always in a constant state of change. Chirin is told not to cross the fence since there are dangers on the other side, but what if something from the other side crosses this line of safety? One night a ‘something’ does cross that line, a wolf specifically, and changes the course of Chirin’s life forever.

RB_4The consequences of this aforementioned tragedy leads our character onto a unique journey. The old saying of if you can’t beat them join them pertains. Instead of confiding his feelings, his suffering, with his peers, Chirin instead tries to enact revenge to the wolf the best way he can. And when he realizes that he can’t beat the wolf, Chirin instead desires to become a wolf; to go against his natural tendencies. Why be a weak and timid lamb when you can be a strong wolf? Like so many of us when we are young, we eventually realize that making a decision from an ungrounded and negative stream of consciousness only feeds into the initial pain and injury. The process eventually leads us to look at ourselves in a metaphorical mirror to have only one question enter into our minds. What have I done?

Sanrio’s output of original work outside of the Hello Kitty brand are a treasure trove. Ringing Bell is one of many examples, including Sea Prince and the Fire Child and Unico. A gem for all ages and all time and a reason to show that the childhood experience goes much deeper and shapes us beyond the ephemeral moment.